Archaeal and bacterial ammonia-oxidisers in soil: the quest for niche specialisation and differentiation

Trends Microbiol. 2012 Nov;20(11):523-31. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2012.08.001. Epub 2012 Sep 7.


Autotrophic archaeal and bacterial ammonia-oxidisers (AOA and AOB) drive soil nitrification. Ammonia limitation, mixotrophy, and pH have been suggested as factors providing niche specialisation and differentiation between soil AOA and AOB. However, current data from genomes, cultures, field studies, and microcosms suggest that no single factor discriminates between AOA and AOB. In addition, there appears to be sufficient physiological diversity within each group for growth and activity in all soils investigated, with the exception of acidic soils (pH <5.5), which are dominated by AOA. Future investigation of niche specialisation in ammonia-oxidisers, and other microbial communities, requires characterisation of a wider range of environmentally representative cultures, emphasis on experimental studies rather than surveys, and greater consideration of small-scale soil heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Archaea / growth & development*
  • Archaea / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biota
  • Nitrification
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Soil Microbiology*


  • Ammonia